Scottish Premiership: Previewing the Weekend's Fixtures (9/11/13)

Sean Martin@@smarti51Contributor INovember 8, 2013

Scottish Premiership: Previewing the Weekend's Fixtures (9/11/13)

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    Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

    All six Scottish Premiership games take place on a Saturday this week, with all but one of those—Celtic's trip to Ross County—kicking off at 3pm.

    It's a toss-up between Hibernian v Inverness and Motherwell v Dundee Utd for tastiest tie.

    The former has the off-the-field dimension of third-place Inverness boss Terry Butcher entering into negotiations with Hibs, currently sitting in seventh, following the resignation of Pat Fenlon a week ago.

    The latter, meanwhile, brings together two sides that will be hoping to fight for second place in the table over the coming months.

    Motherwell came through a bad spell to defeat Hibs 1-0 last weekend thanks to a Stephen McManus header, while Dundee Utd were only denied a win away to champions Celtic by a last-minute Charlie Mulgrew goal. Both sides will be hoping to kick on this matchday and solidify their challenge for second spot.

    Elsewhere in Scotland's top league, the current second-place occupiers, Aberdeen, take on bottom club Hearts after an impressive 4-0 victory over Partick Thistle in midweek.

    Partick themselves face St Mirren in a tie that could potentially propel the Jags within reach of a top-six spot. The Buddies, currently second bottom, will be looking to extend their 15-point advantage over Hearts.

    Last, but definitely not least, an impressive St Johnstone host inconsistent Kilmarnock in what may end up a battle-of-the-strikers matchup between Stevie May and Kris Boyd.

    Here, we take a closer look at the Scottish Premiership fixtures this weekend...

Ross County v Celtic

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    Praise: Despite the team losing, Lustig earned plaudits for his performance against Ajax midweek
    Praise: Despite the team losing, Lustig earned plaudits for his performance against Ajax midweekMark Runnacles/Getty Images

    Where: Victoria Park, Dingwall

    When: Saturday, 9th November 2013

    Kick-off: 12.45 p.m. (GMT)

    TV: BT Sport 1/ BT Sport 1 HD

    Neil Lennon will be looking for a response from his Celtic side after a lacklustre Wednesday defeat away to Ajax in the Champions League. 

    Only a few players—Fraser Forster, Mikael Lustig and Virgil van Dijk—gained real plaudits for their performances in that game, so it's safe to assume all three will start this one. 

    Forster, in particular, will want another solid display as his widely tipped (and long overdue) first England cap draws closer.

    Anthony Stokes will be the key man for the Hoops. The 25-year-old Irish forward has five goals and two assists from his nine appearances so far.

    Ross County, meanwhile, don't seem to draw at home. They've played five, won three and lost two of their home games so far, scoring nine but conceding eight goals in the process.

    The Highlanders have also played a game less than their opponents due to two abandoned fixtures, against Inverness and St Mirren, respectively.

    Once again, County's main creative force has been Richie Brittain. The 30-year-old captain has scored three goals and has one assist from his eight appearances so far this campaign.

    Currently ninth, the Staggies will have to contend with a Celtic side looking to ease the pain of a Champions League defeat and maintain their unbeaten record in the league thus far.


    League form: Ross County (L-W-L-W-L), Celtic (W-W-D-W-D)

    Last five meetings: Celtic 2-1; 1-1 draw; Ross County 3-2; Celtic 4-0; 1-1 draw

    Odds: Ross County (8/1); Draw (21/5); Celtic (2/5)

    Fact: County haven't lost at home to Celtic since September 2011.

Aberdeen v Hearts

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    Competition: Vernon's playing time has been restricted this season
    Competition: Vernon's playing time has been restricted this seasonGetty Images/Getty Images

    Where: Pittodrie Stadium, Aberdeen

    When: Saturday, 9th November 2013

    Kick-off: 3 p.m. (GMT)

    Second plays bottom as Aberdeen host Hearts at Pittodrie this weekend.

    Dons boss Derek McInnes will be expecting a win from his side following an impressive 4-0 defeat of Partick Thistle on Monday.

    The first fixture between the two in August saw the Jambos clinch a 2-1 victory thanks to an 88th minute Jordan McGhee header. 

    McInnes himself said he realises the significance of getting a win against them in this return fixture:

    We have another challenge ahead of us against a team we failed to beat down there earlier in the season. Being at home we want to take full advantage of that. We know we have to play well again... It will be a battle.

    The Dons have Niall McGinn on-form again for this one. The forward struck twice against Thistle midweek and looked back to the 20-goal player of last season.

    Winger Jonny Hayes seems to have recaptured the form he showed at Inverness over a season ago and has garnered a goal to go with his five assists in his 11 appearances so far.

    More than that, the confidence with which the side saw off the Jags will only breed more as Aberdeen look to smash their dismal record of not finishing in the top six since 2008.

    For the away side, meanwhile, things keep getting more difficult. 

    Administration saw the club deducted 15 points to start the season and, despite eating into that gap in the opening weeks, they now find themselves almost a third of the way through the season with the same distance between themselves and second-bottom St Mirren.

    Nevertheless, having Ryan Stevenson back fit after a foot injury is a positive for Hearts. The midfielder scored the winning goal in the Edinburgh derby win against Hibs in the League Cup at the end of October.

    The two sides have only thrown up a 0-0 draw once in their last five encounters. Given the very different form of both, expect goals in this one.


    League form: Aberdeen (D-L-W-W-W), Hearts (D-L-L-L-L)

    Last five meetings: Hearts 2-1; 1-1 draw; Aberdeen 2-0; Hearts 2-0; 0-0 draw

    Odds: Aberdeen (6/11); Draw (16/5); Hearts (13/2)

    Fact: Hearts haven't won away to Aberdeen since October 2010

Hibernian V Inverness Caledonian Thistle

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    Wanted: ICT boss Butcher is reportedly in negotiations with Hibs
    Wanted: ICT boss Butcher is reportedly in negotiations with HibsPaul Thomas/Getty Images

    Where: Easter Road, Edinburgh

    When: Saturday, 9th November 2013

    Kick-off: 3 p.m. (GMT)

    TV: BBC Alba (5.30 p.m., delayed full-match highlights)

    Off-the-field happenings will take centre stage in this one, as Inverness travel to Leith to take on Hibs amid increased speculation manager Terry Butcher is on the verge of joining their opponents.

    The former England captain led Caley to a fourth-place finish last year, while Hibs finished seventh. His side currently sit third, seven points ahead of his prospective employers.

    On the field, the highland club continues to impress. Northern Ireland international Billy McKay once again leads the scoring charts with eight goals from his 11 appearances so far, while Irish midfielder Aaron Doran has emerged as their most creative player with five assists in addition to his three goals.

    The home side have taken 15 points from 12 matches thus far in the league and are looking at Butcher after the resignation of Pat Fenlon at the end of October.

    While their style of play under Fenlon, particularly going forward, received criticism, the performances of Liam Craig have been encouraging.

    The 26-year-old Scot has three goals and two assists so far in his first season with the club.

    While there is no doubt the importance of this match has been ramped up with the speculation surrounding Butcher's future, the game itself is worth a watch if only to see how his (current and prospective) players respond.


    League form: Hibs (L-W-D-L-L), Inverness (L-W-L-L-W)

    Last five meetings: Inverness 3-0; 1-2 Inverness; 3-0 Inverness; 2-2 draw; 2-0 Inverness

    Odds: Hibs (21/10); Draw (12/5); Inverness (6/4)

    Fact: Since joining Inverness in January 2009, Terry Butcher has faced Hibs 13 times. He has won seven, drawn three and lost three

Motherwell v Dundee Utd

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    Rising star: Zaine Francis-Angol has impressed since progressing to the Motherwell first team
    Rising star: Zaine Francis-Angol has impressed since progressing to the Motherwell first teamMark Runnacles/Getty Images

    Where: Fir Park Stadium, Motherwell

    When: Saturday, 9th November 2013

    Kick-off: 3 p.m. (GMT)

    Both of these sides should be in the mix for second place come the end of the season.

    Currently it is Motherwell who are closest (in fourth), while Dundee Utd have been a victim of their own inconsistency and sit in sixth.

    The Terrors have impressed in the last two matchdays, however, with an emphatic 4-0 win at home to St Mirren followed by a 1-1 draw away at Celtic. The latter could, and perhaps should, have been a notable victory for former Celtic captain and United boss Jackie McNamara as his side were leading until a 90th minute Charlie Mulgrew equaliser.

    A victory at Fir Park would put McNamara's men straight back in contention for second.

    Ryan Gauld, at just 17 years old, has been called up to the Scotland under-21 squad for the first time this week and will want to show the skills which saw him labelled "baby Messi" the past year.

    Somewhat mixed news for United is that Nadir Ciftci has had his red card received against Inverness in the League Cup reduced to a yellow. Unfortunately for the Turk, he still faces a charge of excessive misconduct.

    Motherwell, meanwhile, have quietly been going about their business and established themselves as a direct challenger to in-form Aberdeen and Inverness for second spot.

    With the conflict surrounding Terry Butcher's proposed move hanging over Inverness' visit to Hibs this week, Motherwell will be hoping to leapfrog the highlanders into at least third.

    Defender-turned-midfielder Zaine Francis-Angol has emerged as arguably the brightest prospect from Motherwell's productive youth system this season. The 20-year-old Antigua and Barbuda international has three assists this season and signed a new deal in January.


    League form: Motherwell (W-L-W-L-W), Dundee Utd (D-W-L-W-D)

    Last five meetings: 2-2 draw; 1-3 Motherwell; 0-1 Dundee Utd; 1-2 Motherwell; 0-1 Dundee Utd

    Odds: Motherwell (13/8); Draw (12/5); Dundee Utd (2/1)

    Fact: The last time the side playing at home won this fixture was May 2011, when Dundee Utd won 4-0.

Partick Thistle v St Mirren

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    Creative: McGowan has been the Buddies' most productive player so far this term
    Creative: McGowan has been the Buddies' most productive player so far this termMark Runnacles/Getty Images

    Where: Firhill Stadium, Glasgow

    When: Saturday, 9 November 2013

    Kick-off: 3 p.m. (GMT)

    Five points and 11 miles separate these two sides, going into the weekend's clash.

    St Mirren are in the surreal position of being second bottom of the league but sitting on 15 points worth of breathing space due to Hearts' administration troubles.

    Newly promoted Partick Thistle, meanwhile, are arguably overachieving thus far on their return to the top league and sit eighth.

    The form book slightly favours the Buddies this week, given they've taken six points from their last three games where Partick took only three.

    That said, the inconsistency of both sides means predicting the result of this one is better left to Mystic Meg.

    The fact both sides approach this tie off the back of 4-0 away defeats only increases the unpredictability factor.

    Familiarity is, however, the word for both teams' key men. Partick striker Kris Doolan has found the net on five occasions, supplemented with two assists, in his 12 appearances so far, while diminutive forward Paul McGowan continues to be the Saints' most creative force with three assists and two goals.


    League form: Partick Thistle (D-L-W-L-L), St Mirren (L-D-W-W-L)

    Last meetings: 1-2 Partick (see fact)

    Odds: Partick (15/3); Draw (12/5); St Mirren (11/4)

    Fact: These two sides have met only once in the past eight years—Partick's 2-1 win at St Mirren Park back in August.

St Johnstone V Kilmarnock

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    Leading the line: Saints striker May has been the star man this season
    Leading the line: Saints striker May has been the star man this seasonPaul Thomas/Getty Images

    Where: McDiarmid Park, Perth

    When: Saturday, 9th November 2013

    Kick-off: 3 p.m. (GMT)

    St Johnstone have 18 points from 12 games thus far, double that of opponents Kilmarnock.

    The Perth side are the top scorers in the league, outside Celtic, with 19. Of those, 12 have involved 21-year-old Stevie May, who has six goals and six assists.

    Killie average just over a goal a game with 13 from 12; six of those have been scored by a seemingly revitalised Kris Boyd.

    It could, then, very much end up a match decided by which on-form striker plays better on the day.

    Certainly, the supporting cast to both frontmen contain a certain level of talent—Kilmarnock right-back Sean Clohessy has impressed since arriving from Southend United, and Saints winger Nigel Hasselbaink, now at his third Scottish club aged just 22, can be an effective opponent on his day.  But it is on Boyd and May the season-long fortunes of their clubs will rest.

    Both sides have won two of their previous three games, but the momentum favours St Johnstone after back-to-back 2-0 wins over Motherwell and Hearts.


    League form: St Johnstone (D-W-L-W-W), Kilmarnock (L-L-W-W-L)

    Last five meetings: 0-0 draw; 2-0 St Johnstone; 1-2 St Johnstone; 2-1 St Johnstone; 0-0 draw 

    Odds: St Johnstone (5/6); Draw (11/4); Kilmarnock (19/5)

    Fact: Kilmarnock haven't beaten St Johnstone since November 2010